On the morning of Dec. 7, Japanese warplanes roared across the sky above Oahu.
Aboard the USS Arizona, Coxwain Edward Janikowski had just put a boatload of shipmates into the harbor bound for church services ashore. He looked up to see the blood-red rising sun emblazoned on the wings of the aircraft overhead.
Then all hell broke loose.
In 1991, on the 50th anniversary of the attack, Janikowski told Winona Daily News reporter Mark Metzler what happened next.
“I had the watch 4 to 8 in the morning, and this happened at 8. When the planes came over, I knew right away. They dropped bombs right away at the airfield at Ford Island. Then they came over us and they dropped some more. And we knew right away. I saw the wings … the big rising sun on the planes.
“They were so low over the ship you could see them — the pilots — you could see what they looked like.”
“An officer told me, ‘General Quarters! This is not a drill. The Japanese are bombing Pearl Harbor!”
“Then he had me running all over the quarterdeck and getting different people. He told me to go in and get the lieutenant commander out of the wardroom. And then I opened the hatch up, and that was the end of it.”
A Japanese bomb had detonated in the battleship’s forward powder magazine, touching off a massive explosion that ripped the bow from the ship and sent Janikowski flying 20 feet across the deck, over the side and into the water — water set ablaze with the 18,000 gallons of fuel oil escaping the ships ruptured fuel tanks.
“I didn’t even know I was burning. My whole face, my hair was burned off, my hands were burned, and then I went into the water, and the water was burning,” Janikowski said.
Less than five minutes had elapsed since the attack began.
As the Arizona settled to the bottom, more than 1,000 sailors were trapped below decks and perished. Only 248 of the 1,425 officers and men aboard the Arizona survived.
“Some of the boys — a lot of them lost their lives — jumped 100 feet into this burning sea. Our clothes caught fire when we hit the water. I was dressed in the service, whites at the time, and big holes were burned in the uniform,” he recalled in a 1942 interview, shortly after he was released from the hospital.
“The swimming I learned in the old Mississippi came in handy. None of us had time to get any life preservers.”
“It was hard going in the burning oil. I headed for shore but did not make it. I went out, and was picked up by a boat (the same boat he had launched moments before) and taken to a hospital ship. I don’t remember much of the first few days.”
Days after the attack, the hospital ship Solace, with Janikowski aboard, set sail for the United States.
Recovery from horror
“I think my happiest day was Christmas Day in Vallejo, Calif., because they said a submarine was following us all the way to San Francisco,” Janikowski told Metzler in the 1991 Daily News story.
In the hospital at Vallejo he was briefly reunited with one of his shipmates.
“One of the guys called my name. I didn’t know who he was, he was so burnt,” Janikowski said. “’I’m Goshen,’ he said, and I said, ‘Oh.’ He was all black. He could see I suppose. And he lived, too. He was burnt all over his body.”
Not far from the Arizona, the USS Oklahoma had fared little better.
Hit by three torpedoes dropped by Japanese torpedo bombers, the Oklahoma, mortally wounded, turned turtle in the harbor, trapping hundreds of crewmen inside the hull — many of whom were saved when rescuers braved explosions and burning oil to dive down to open hatches and cut through the hull to allow men to escape drowning or suffocation.
Lloyd Timm, 20, from Kellogg, Second Class Seaman aboard the Oklahoma, was among the 429 crewmen killed. His brother, Warren Timm, 21, had only recently transferred from the Oklahoma to train in aviation mechanics in Jacksonville, Fla. where he was the day of the attack.
Owen Teska, 20, of Winona, manned his gun as the call to General Quarters sounded and was “right in there pitching” until the ship capsized beneath him. He survived the sinking and the war.
Janikowski’s parents wouldn’t learn their son had survived the sinking until Dec. 18. He would be the second Winona area Pearl Harbor casualty to be reported.
On Dec. 16, the first casualty notice arrived when a War Department telegram informed the family of Howard Irmscher of Fountain City that Howard had been “lost in action on a ship in the performance of his duty and in service to his country.”
However, Irmscher, who had been stationed at Pearl Harbor, surprised his family on New Year’s Eve with postcards telling them “I am well and getting along well. Letter follows.” The cards were followed by an official Navy Department apology on New Year’s Day.
For other families, the news was grim.
On Dec. 21 parents of Harold William Ham, a farm boy from St. Charles, and Joseph Morris Johnson from Rushford, were notified that their sons had died in the Pearl Harbor attack.
Other families had even a longer wait. It wasn’t until Jan. 7 that Mrs. Bertha Johnson of Houston was notified by the War Department that her son, Private First Class Olaf A. Johnson, stationed at Hickam Field on Dec. 7, had been killed in action.
Alvin Claussen was aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Craven escorting the carrier U.S.S. Enterprise from Wake Island to Pearl when the Japanese struck, avoiding the attack.
However, on July 4, 1944, he was serving as radioman aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Strong when it was hit by a Japanese torpedo and sunk. Four days later he was able to contact his parents, assuring them he was “very much alive.”
“It was a hard blow to the Island,” Janikowski said while on leave in 1942, “and a lot of the fellows lost their lives, but there are many more there now to take their places.”
“They need us fellows now and I’ll be going back,” he said.
He did go back. His injuries kept him out of combat for the balance of the war, but he served as crewman on the admirals launch at Pearl Harbor. He would go on to a career in the Navy, serving 21 years, then spending the next 16 years as a civilian employee in the Navy Yards in Bremerton, Wash. He retired in 1976.
In 1991, Janikowski was present for the 50-year anniversary commemoration at the memorial above the decks of the Arizona in Pearl Harbor. There, above the final resting place of 1,100 shipmates, he met President George Bush and his wife, Barbara.
“I shook his hand twice and Barbara’s, too,” he said, in an interview with the Daily News.
When examining the names of the dead interred below, Janikowski found 50 names of men he knew.
“When I go aboard that memorial and I look at a name, I can just see the face, the guys that I used to go on the beach with,” he said.
“I still remember people’s faces.”